Fully-remote. Mid-pandemic. Less daylight and the long stretch of winter before us.
Staff wellbeing, with that laundry list of hurdles, needs to be a priority in the workplace. It needs to be a priority because what we’ve all done up until 2020 has lost relevancy. Mental health and wellbeing have strains placed upon them by events which we never expected and only Bill Gates sort of predicted.
While some are thriving as they work from home, others are struggling and it's important we keep them in mind while we celebrate the good things remote work brings. Employees are worried about the health of their family, juggling loneliness or childcare, suffering from cabin fever, experiencing seasonal depression and more. Even with the emergence of COVID-19 vaccines, life isn’t going back to normal anytime soon.
We know staff wellbeing needs to be carefully looked after now and always, but what should you be doing to build an environment where you promote workplace mental health through new challenging environments? How can you keep tabs on your employees’ mental health, supporting staff in the areas they need and providing resources so that they can help themselves?
We’re still figuring that out ourselves. Like you, we’re on a never-ending journey to being the best version of ourselves for our people. We’ve even put out this survey to our network so that we can glean insights into how other forward-thinking companies are changing how they care for their employees’ wellbeing. We look forward to sharing those insights with you. But before we collate and read into those results, we’re starting the conversation here.
What does staff wellbeing look like?
Staff wellbeing is when your people feel happy in their roles regarding their workload, their relationships with colleagues, the quality of their output, their development opportunities, their compensation, recognition, stress levels and anything that has to do with how they feel about work. As it touches on so many areas, an organisation who makes a point to promote mental health and wellbeing will inevitably see benefits from doing so.
The benefits of staff wellbeing are ones that any People person would be happy to have, not just for the company but for the very people who give their role purpose in the first place. Staff wellbeing leads to job satisfaction which can increase productivity and engagement amongst your team.
But we don’t see our staff as eNPS scores or productivity engines, we see them as multi-faceted, complex and worthy people. It’s our genuine concern for those people, who are going through unique challenges, which prompts us all to re-evaluate physical and mental health in a work world that’s not existed before.
Which is why staff wellbeing is requiring different types of support from organisations.
What needs to change for staff wellbeing to flourish?
Our wellbeing policies were built for a different world of work, that’s obvious. What we’ve been trying to do is be agile and responsive to the changing realities and needs of a remote and locked down workforce. We’ve heard similar things from other start-ups, scale-ups and forward-thinking people functions. We’re all doing the best that we can for our people.
Some common issues we’ve seen or heard of are around employees overworking because they don’t turn off from work, not spending enough time outside of the home or unplugged from technology, missing out on the ‘forced’ socialisation of an office environment where run-ins and coffee chats are organic, among other disruptors to our health.
To figure out what needs to change in our policies and the ways in which we promote wellbeing to our team, we need only turn to tried and true methods. The ones we would have used to determine the wellbeing policies of the traditional workplace. It’s not the methods that need to be adapted — assuming there are good practices in place to begin with — it’s our responses and policies themselves that require altering to reflect present life.
Whether dealing with a pandemic such as COVID-19, perfect health, at the office or in our home, the path to help and support wellbeing for our staff lies in having psychological safety, a strong culture, intentional and deliberate communication and opportunities for growth. It’s through those that we will equip our people to maintain their wellbeing.
How to build a workplace environment for staff wellbeing in 2021
Start with Psychological safety and lead with culture
Psychological safety is something we’ve touched upon before when talking about staff development and likely will again and again, because it’s the foundation for so many important things in your organisation. Literally. Without it, problems will abound in areas of development, job satisfaction, engagement and dun dun dunnn... wellbeing. It’s also no coincidence that all of these things are connected.
If you want a refresher or you’re discovering this concept for the first time, psychological safety is when each individual of the organisation has no fear around sharing feedback, seeking development, voicing concerns and ideas, asking for help, or going against the grain.
With psychological safety firmly established, you’ll be able to know how staff wellbeing is truly doing because they won’t have any fear or judgement when expressing their current struggles, mental health states, or when they feel burnout. You’ll also get an idea of how your organisation's leadership needs to change the way they offer support for staff wellbeing and healthy work-life balances.
It’s a company’s responsibility to offer as much structure as possible for staff to follow, in an agile way, so that they can safeguard their wellbeing and know what is and is not expected of them. It also provides confidence in a company’s ability to respond to staff needs. Culture leads the way in making sure that those structures remain in place and are reinforced.
For the last 8 months, the world has been uncertain, and uncertainty is exhausting. Employers can aim to offer as much help and certainty as possible so that their staff know they can count on them to be there. The more expectations and certainties you can share the better — even if it's to say you don't know — because then you can start with context. People are craving certainty so setting that cadence is invaluable.
Psychological safety and a culture that directs your staff can only work if you, and they, are communicating productively. Every individual has their own coping mechanisms, triggers and sensitivities and how you'll reveal them is through intentional and deliberate communication.
Then communicate with intention and strike a work-life balance
You’re not a mindreader (are you!?), and neither are your people. If you want to support staff then the best thing you can do is get them talking, with the intention to share what their current reality is and how it’s affecting them. The good, the bad and the ugly. Staff should be open about this so that the organisation can respond and adapt to protect the mental health of their staff. Long term mental wellbeing is achieved in the workplace when communication goes both ways.
The company needs to demonstrate leadership for everyone on the team. Leaders communicate and demonstrate expectations. This translates into clearly articulating what you want to see your staff doing so that they can reach a state of true wellbeing. In a Gallup poll, two of the five reasons an employee was feeling burnout was down to communication.
It’s also about dispelling wrongly perceived ideas of what good looks like. Good does not look like working extra hours. There is no badge of honour for an employee who works late.
Good, at least for us, does look like core hours which are flexible to individual circumstances. Why? Because those allow for longer lunch breaks or time to organise a work day around activities which will support wellbeing. That can be walks when the sun is still out, meditations, exercise or time to cook a balanced meal. Anything that helps mitigate stress levels for employees and which allows them to strike a work-life balance that preserves the best of themselves for their role in the workplace and who they are outside of work.
Wellbeing looks different for everyone so it’s not enough to communicate with only a select few members of the organisation. While individuals on the team can help spark insights into what others may be feeling or what they may not be saying, it’s essential that each person is communicated with because the struggles across your team may not be related. Trust them to know what they need but also provide resources that help them identify those needs.
They may require different resources to help them establish wellbeing, they may want more physical wellbeing in their lives while others require more focus on the mental side. Talk. Talk often and with purpose. Talk to everybody.
Finally, you need to offer opportunities to learn and develop
A great way to stay mentally well in our day to day is to work and challenge the brain in positive ways. When we feel like we’re moving forward, we often feel good about ourselves and our capabilities. It lends us a sense of control over where we’re going and in these crazy times that can make all the difference.
Encourage your staff to set goals, make their development a priority of the company by offering personal learning budgets and have managers and L&D leaders charge the way forward by setting goals themselves. Support every employee to improve their skill sets and watch them feel motivated to work through difficult times and situations. Having a purpose can be powerful and is important when striving for a healthy and positive mindset.
Having great mental health can be goal related, whether that looks like developing better time management, tapping into meditation apps, reading the Daily Stoic, learning how to cook healthier meals, the list really goes on and on.
To help your staff manage and improve their wellbeing:
- Prioritise and promote health and wellbeing, offering support and help where required
- Understand that support will need to look different to account for different situations
- Build upon tried and true methods which discover where staff needs supporting
- Make resources readily available for staff to learn what they want to improve in, trust that they know their situations better than anyone else and
- Leadership, including managers should support each employee to move towards healthy and positive mindsets where stress is under control